Respect the distance

With 2 days to go, it struck me that 50km is a long way to walk. I obviously knew this when I agreed to do it, but it hadn’t fully registered with me quite what the challenge was. And two days isn’t really enough to prepare for this. I was telling myself that 6 weeks earlier I’d run 60km. But I’d prepared for that and I had trained in running. Walking – in theory – is easier than running, but in practice, I find the different muscles that are engaged always get me behind the knee. And did I mention this was happening overnight?

As with all challenges, there are two choices – to do, or to not do. What do we need to consider when we choose to do?

Mostly, respect the distance. And this is true, metaphorically, for life as well as literally for endurance events. Recognise that it’s a long way and that change can take a long time; that most people won’t even try and that sometimes you need to take a break half way. Recognise that getting to the start line and giving it a go may in itself be the change you’re looking for.

Even if you start slow, start. Whether you adopt the tortoise or the hare approach the most important thing is to take the first step. You’ll get to the finish line no matter which attitude you adopt.

Do the hard work.  This could be physical training or mental preparation. If you want to get to the finish line (and remember if you’re thinking big picture, you get to decide where or what this is). Whatever it is you want to do – practice doing that thing. If you want to walk 50km, get out walking; if you want to sing professionally, practice singing or if you want to lead a company, find a team or a project to manage.

Celebrate your successes. Try not to focus on how far there is to go, but remember to take stock of where you are right now and how you’ve travelled to get there. You can get a bit of a spring in your step when you celebrate the 30km done, rather than focusing on the 20km still to go. And pause if you need to and enjoy the view.

I’ve done many endurance events before and I know I can do them. I trust my amazing body to keep going. My challenge is to make it feel easier, although I don’t think it will ever feel easy and the best way to do this is to respect the distance but do it anyway.

If you know what you want to do, but can’t seem to make it happen – get in touch for a chat about how I can help you start doing your dreams.

I could never…start cycling

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re missing out? Would this drive you to sulk at home, pretend it’s something you don’t want, or find out how you can join in? Meet Suzanne Perkins, who made it her business to get physical and start cycling so that she could share in the experience that her husband and son had when running marathons.

Suzanne has a back injury and nerve damage to her foot, which means that running is not a possibility. Through physio treatment, she finally asked the question about cycling – and was told that this was something she could do. Cycling is a world away from previous hobbies like quilting and music, and the first step was to buy a bike. This was a hybrid bike with the lowest step through she could find so that, with her back injury she could actually get on the bike.

As is common with new toys, this sat in the garage for a good long while until a casual conversation with friends led to the idea of a group bike ride. Fuelled by the fear of not keeping up, Suzanne got her bike out for some sneaky training.

The group ride, left her feeling a bit disappointed: it was only 6 miles. This was 2014 and it was the start of something. Wanting to put some of her training into practice, Suzanne entered a women’s only sportive. She entered the shortest distance (12 miles that turned out to be 15 miles) and went round the course so fast that her husband hadn’t made it to the finish to see her back in.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. A fall from the bike and a broken leg, which would have put a lot of people off, led to even more determination. This was fully supported by the family: whilst in recovery a Christmas present of entry into the local sportive was received!

This year, in celebration of her 60th birthday, Suzanne will be tackling 100 miles in the Ride London event. Prior to this she’ll be cycling 86 miles in the hilly Welsh countryside and has just returned from a training camp on Dartmoor. Her first celebration was a family trip to the Olympic velodrome: riding on the track, not watching.

Suzanne and family at the velodrome

In our conversation, I posed the question on how a non-sporty, non-outdoorsy lady can transform into a cycling whizz. The main drive is to share the experience: of training, of racing, of recovering – doing and achieving – with her family who are all keen athletes. In particular there’s inspiration and encouragement from her son who wants Mum to be fit and healthy.

Mixing with like-minded people, developing an appreciation for the surroundings and noticing the change in seasons all keep Suzanne focused and out on her bike all year round. In cycling you can go at your own pace and in endurance rides challenge your mind as well as your body. When you want to give up 9 miles into a 50 mile ride, it takes some strength to keep going.

And that’s something that you can take into the rest of life: Suzanne has noticed that she’s braver than she’s ever been and not afraid to have a go at new things.

I can’t wait to hear about what’s coming up next. I know there could be mountain biking involved, because there’s been a recent purchase. But who knows what else?

I asked for some tips for anyone contemplating getting active and she said just try things. Keep going until you find the thing that you love and then it becomes easy.

I could never…start a charity

What do you do when you need some time to figure out if the career you’ve chosen is the one for you?  Travel?  Support a good cause?  Or both.  And so much the better if you can find a novel twist to tie it all together.

This is how Cricket Without Boundaries was born.  A trip from Cairo to Cape Town coaching cricket along the way…and using cricket to spread education on AIDS awareness and other social issues. (Listen in, it makes sense)

I spoke to Ed Williams – founder and trustee of CWB – and we talked about the last 10 years, how CWB has grown and the challenges for the future.  I found out who provided the inspiration for the original trip, the importance of finding the right team and how playing with ideas can lead you to the right place.


CWB is a cricket development and AIDS awareness charity run by volunteers. It has coached over 250,000 children and has had a positive impact on their lives through education, integration and friendship.  Local cricket coaches are supported to ensure sustainability within communities.  The vision is to coach 1 million children in the next 10 years.

If you would like to get involved through volunteering (no cricket experience required) or fundraising and raising awareness they would love to hear from you.

I could never…do a triathlon

This story is all about the challenge: creating it, accepting it and doing it.  When Chris Shead was looking for something to do, he settled on a triathlon. But no ordinary triathlon – the Alpe d’Huez triathlon: a legendary mountain in cycling terms. And in deciding on what to do, it doesn’t have to be your thing forever – do it and see what happens next.

 It shows that by committing (entering an event) and taking the first step (or pedal or stroke) you can do it and still have fun along the way. 


Q. Can you explain what the Alpe d’Huez triathlon is?

A. Well, it’s a triathlon, so swim, bike, run, but the beauty of this event is it’s in the French Alps. Alpe d’Huez is a famous ski resort, but there is an amazing road up the mountain, which is famed for its steepness and to negotiate the steep face of the mountain it has 21 switch-backs. From the air it looks like a winding snake and if anyone is keen on the Tour de France bike race they will have seen footage – it’s an iconic, brutal, mountain stage which the Le Tour includes about every three years.

Most triathlons cover standard distances, the standard being the ‘Olympic’, or ‘international’ distance which is 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run. The Alpe event offers two distances, called, dramatically, “Long” and “Short”. The long is considerably longer than the standard and the short is slightly shorter. I opted for the short course.

Q. Had you done triathlons before? What made you choose to do it?

A. No! What made me choose to do it…I wanted a challenge. Simple.

I have always cycled, even from my teenage years I covered long distances, we didn’t have a car. In 2004 I started running and started to enter running events – doing organised races really gets me going, it’s so good to set a target, plan for it, go there, get nervous, do the event and then look back. Fabulous feeling. Around 2008 I decided I wanted to build upper body strength, so I joined a gym, but being locked away in a room doesn’t feel great so I started to swim. We have an outdoor lido nearby so I started to swim outdoors. The only stroke I was any good at was breast stroke which was fine for building strength but I felt I lacked a real reason to go to the pool – outdoors, sometimes chilly etc, I wanted a good reason and suddenly realised that training for a Tri would be a good objective. So I remember searching on-line for an event and found the Alpe d’Huez Tri. It had only started in 2006, and of course I knew the Alpe from following Le Tour. I entered in September 2009 planning to do the July 2010 event. I was scared stiff, I couldn’t even do the ‘freestyle’or front crawl stroke that is expected in a triathlon!

Q. Was it an easy decision? Were you confident you could do it when you signed up?

A. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure about ‘could’ but knew I would do it – even if it took me longer than anyone else and I came last, I didn’t care. The website had terrific, almost scary footage of previous events. I just badly wanted to do it, so the decision was easy. I was conscious of cost, but I figured I could sleep in the car en route, camp and keep costs down.

‘Could’ do it, involves some sense of what is the standard required. I looked at race results and times across the three disciplines. I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I realised I could train, develop new skills, achieve new levels of fitness, enjoy preparing, sharing the journey with friends and meet new people.

Q. What happened between signing up and the event?

A. A pretty heavy training schedule. My wife bought me a famous triathlete training manual and I realised I would be training everyday. I developed a schedule, RunSunday, SwimMonday, BikeTuesday, etc. I even had to spend more time in the gym on specific muscle groups. I told people because I was very proud to have entered such a tough event.

We decided my wife would travel down with me, so the idea of sleeping in the car, camping, etc soon vanished! We booked hotels and started to plan a very pleasant week away.

The motivation came from the simple idea that the training was great, doing me good and it had to be done if I was to perform to any kind of standard. The biggest problem was the swimming. I struggled to learn the front crawl, or freestyle, that’s expected in a Tri. I studied the technique and I graduated from the lido and local pool to an outdoor swimming venue where I knew other triathletes trained. Sunday mornings, 06.30 am putting on a wetsuit and getting into a chilly lake was pretty memorable. I remember one marvelous morning when I was out in the lake, it was big and it felt wonderfully peaceful treading water with mist on water and swans gliding past. I took lessons and worked really hard but it was my weakest discipline, but when other swimmers asked me what event I was training for, they were all impressed to hear I was going to the Alpe d’Huez. That felt very cool.

Getting equipped was motivating. I went to a big Tri event around October because I heard that some companies who hire race bikes out during the season sell them as the season closes. Sure enough, a guy sold me a decent bike, and I bought clip-on pedals, bike shoes, a ‘Tri suit’ which you can wear for all three disciplines. Other equipment included swim trunks, flippers, hand paddles, etc for training, goggles and a wet suit for the event. The lake that they use is fed by alpine glacial rivers and it’s cold, even in July, so the wetsuit is obligatory. The kit-list was considerable, but really fuelled the excitement and brought a new level of technical discipline to my training. I was loving it!

 Q. How did it go? How did you feel afterwards?

A. It was wonderful. I was shocked by the swim section. The lake is surrounded by dark rock, very steep mountains slope straight into the water. The start area was crowded, it was cold and a storm arrived as we waited for the start. The clouds were dark, really low and forboding. It started to hail, the dark rocks all around seemed to turn black, like wet coal. There was a helicopter flying low, lots of commands over the megaphone. The atmosphere was tense, electric and claustrophobic. I saw a few people panicking and they were hauled out of the water into marshal’s boats. It felt amazing to be there. I knew what I was there to do – my best – and I was focused enough to realise I was going to swim-bike-run my race. I wasn’t going to get drawn into any personal duels.

I was disappointed with my swim section, I wasn’t last out of the water but I could see loads of people getting started on their bikes and getting away. I knew I would catch a few of them.

The bike section was awesome. I remember smiling as I shot through the countryside, through some small towns always with the Alpe getting closer. The roads were closed and gendarmes added a real feeling of a professional sports event. I overtook some guys and then hit the start of the Alpe. Wow, it was like a wall of tarmac. I had trained on the steepest hills I could find, some at 19%, and the famous Ditchling Beacon in Sussex, but nothing was as long as that road with it’s famous 21 bends.

The run was fun. I remember running with 3 other guys and we were chatting in broken English as we ran a loop course around the top of the mountain to the finish.

How did I feel at the finish……very, very satisfied

Q. Do you have any tips for people thinking about doing a triathlon/something out of their comfort zone?

A. Know what you want to achieve and be realistic. Enjoy the experience. Get advice.

Triathletes love their kit, and their ‘tech’ equipment. If you do a Tri, you will need to get the kit.

For me, most important is to set a target. Don’t just talk about it, find a target, make a date, commit. Then organise and enjoy the ride!

Q. What are your current or future challenges?

A. Nothing specific. I run and bike, but swim a lot less. I have just looked at the Alpe d’Huez Tri web-site, and they now have a Duathlon event planned. That’s run, bike, run – no swimming!

If you might be interested in the Alpe d’Huez triathlon you can find out all you need to know here: 

I could never… run a muddy, obstacle race

Running is no longer enough, it seems.  Now people need to prove themselves by adding obstacles in a run.  And mud. This is not good news for someone who happily falls into the category of “average club runner”.  This is double not good for an average club runner averse to mud.  I don’t like mud, never have done, and whilst I can tolerate it now, my natural instinct is to avoid.

So how did I find myself at the start of a muddy obstacle race? Here’s the story:

At a conference, a colleague was telling me what jolly, good fun these muddy race things were.  I rolled my eyes but somewhere in my mind my self development work kicked in and I heard the words “comfort zone” and creating barriers”.  I asked myself whether “I don’t like mud” was a good enough excuse? Afterall, I can run and I love a physical challenge and who knows when I might need to run through mud to escape baddies.

running shoes
Note: no mud on my running shoes

Roll on a couple of  months and I find myself leaving home early on an October morning and parking up in a field on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells. I pretend it’s just an ordinary trail run, attach  my number and enter the warm up area (all the time reassuring my colleague that I was fine, but reminding him that I wasn’t looking forward to it). To be honest, I really wasn’t sure if I could do it,which sounded ridiculous but real in my head. The starting gun was fired and a steep descent led to a winding path through the wood. And then, there it was: a dank, muddy stream to cross. I paused for a while whilst my co-competitors happily jumped in and gave myself a quick talking to. I took a deep breath and gingerly (as gingerly as you can when you’re waist deep in mud and old water) made my way across the stream and scrambled out the other side remembering to  breathe again once I’d got out.

The good news is that I made it round the rest of the course.  I still had the voice in my head telling me I was going to end up face first in the mud until I’d cross the finish line but I kept going – lots of deep breaths and each obstacle gave me the confidence to tackle the next one.

I didn’t enjoy it.

I felt a massive sense of achievement.

Now I know that I can run a muddy, obstacle race. No plans to enter another one though!